Tag Archives: news

Top Prop Stories of 2018

With 2018 coming to an end and 2019 starting up, it’s a good time to look at the past year and see the biggest news in the world of props.

Reflections on the First USITT Props Lab – The prop department has long found itself lumped in with the Scenic Design Commission at USITT, which often gives us no representation at the conference. However, this past year saw the introduction of the first Props Lab, which gave us continuous demonstrations and hands-on workshops right on the Stage Expo floor for three straight days. I have also heard rumors that Props might attempt to become its own commission at some point in the future.

‘Props’ go to Wheaton: Exhibitions celebrate stage, movie, TV artistry that usually goes unnoticed – Elizabeth Keithline curated an amazing art exhibit this year that pulled together props from the worlds of film, television, opera, and live theater, and displayed them in a way that highlighted their own artistic merit. The show included work from Ross MacDonald (National Treasure, The Hateful Eight), Annie Atkins (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Carl Sprague (Isle of DogsLa La Land), Buist Bickley (Spongebob: The Musical), Randy Lutz (The Santa Fe Opera), Jay Duckworth (The Public Theater), and me (this blog).

Hong Kong Court Convicts Props Master for Possession of Fake Cash – In a strange turn of events, a props master in Hong Kong was convicted for the possession of fake cash while on the set of a film. This conviction threw the local film industry into a state of shock. Luckily for the props master, the conviction was overturned a few months later.  The appeal was won on a technicality, though, so props masters in Hong Kong continue to wonder how they can use fake money in films without falling on the wrong side of the law.

The First Annual Maker Faire Prop Contest – As the world of hobby prop making continues to explode, the original Maker Faire in the Bay Area held their first ever Prop Contest, with winners announced during the 2018 Faire.

The Prop Effects Guidebook – My second book was released this past year, covering all the different kinds of effects we use in props: lighting, pneumatics, blood, breakaways, sound, and much more.

Silk Flowers and Papier Mache Hearts – This year also saw the launch of an all-new podcast by Ashley Flowers and me. It may be the only podcast dedicated solely to props in the performing arts. We have already had a great array of guest stars, and have covered some wonderful topics, and are looking forward to having even more guest stars in the coming year.

Inside the one-ton, history-making King Kong Broadway musical – If I had to pick one prop from the past year that deserved a spot in this year-end wrap-up, it would definitely have to be the King Kong puppet from the new Broadway musical. Though the reviews on the musical itself have been mixed, everyone agrees that the one-ton semi-animatronic puppet is a work of staggering genius.

In Memoriam: John C. Taccone, IATSE Stagehand – The props world lost one of its long-time members this year. John Taccone was on the props crew at the New Amsterdam Theatre for over twenty years.

That’s the end of my list of the most important stories in props for 2018. What are yours?

Top Prop Stories of 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, let us take a look back at the top news stories that affected our industry.

Robby the Robot Is Now the Most Valuable Movie Prop Sold at Auction – The famous Forbidden Planet creation recently sold for $5,375,000.

Alley Theatre Suffers Damage From Hurricane Harvey – One of the United States’ largest regional theaters suffered a devastating blow as flood waters destroyed a major portion of their hand props. They were able to bounce back quickly and resume putting on shows, but this loss will surely be felt for years to come.

Fake cosplay guns, real security problems at Comic Cons – Though cosplay continues to gain in popularity, more and more fan conventions are limiting the use of realistic prop guns, or even banning prop weapons altogether. Expect this story to continue to unfold over the next few years.

20 Years of the 501st Legion: How the Star Wars Costuming Group Became a Force for Good – Speaking of cosplay, the world-famous group of Stormtrooper enthusiasts celebrated their twentieth anniversary this year.

San Diego Opera to Sell Studio to Help Stabilize Finances – The company announced its plan to sell off its scene shop as a way to balance their budget. They will continue to rent a portion of it to build sets, and they pulled this off without any layoffs, so it may end up being a positive thing.

Jay Duckworth at USITT 2017 – One of the keynotes at 2017’s USITT conference was a props person. Jay Duckworth, props director at The Public Theater, spoke about his career and the artist’s “bug out bag.”

Inside Syfy’s Cosplay Melee Workshop – The Syfy Channel introduced a new reality show this year called Cosplay Melee. Tested took us into their workshop to see what the contestants had to work with.

Off-Broadway Producers and United Scenic Artists Create First Ever Agreement for Off-Broadway Designers – In an historic move, designers on Off-Broadway productions will now be covered by the USA union. I do not know what this means for prop designers, who can be found all over Off-Broadway but are almost non-existent in venues already covered by USA.

The Prop Building Guidebook second edition – Finally, the second edition to my book was released this year. I like to think this is news-worthy. Be on the lookout for an all-new book from me, The Prop Effects Guidebook, which will be out in early 2018!

Friday’s Favorite Prop Links

From bloodied volleyballs to memory loss neuralyzers: designers’ favourite film props – A number of designers in the graphics, architecture, and advertising world talk about their favorite prop from a movie. It’s an interesting look at the design of iconic props from the perspective of those in design fields outside of film and performing arts.

Stranger Things VFX Supervisor on Making Monster Mayhem – This interview with Marc Kolbe, supervisor of the visual effects team, delves into the bizarre and unique world of Stranger Things. As with many visual effects teams these days, Marc is in charge of both the practical and digital effects, which allows him to use both to their full advantage and have them play off each other.

My Career as a Freelance Prop Maker – Melanie Wing has been a freelance prop maker in the UK for the past 12 years. In this interview, she talks about her training and how her career began.

Replica ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ car stolen from theater supply company – A TO Z Theatrical Supply and Service in Kansas City built a replica of this iconic vehicle to rent out to high schools and community theatres who perform this show. It was stolen from their warehouse last week. So if you see this car flying through the air, let them know.

2015 in Review

Since 2015 is almost at an end and 2016 is just around the corner, I thought I would look back at some of the more important news stories in the world of props.

Industrial Light and Magic, the effects company which pioneered modern practical and digital effects, turned 40 this year, and this feature in Wired on their history is nothing short of spectacular.

The Society of Properties Artisan Managers (S*P*A*M) held their yearly conference at the University of Maryland and it was spectacular. The New York City Props Summit also held its annual conference this year, and it had one of its highest attendances ever.

Speaking of S*P*A*M, they also launched a new Facebook Group open to one and all. This replaces any of the previous message boards that were attempted, and hopefully will serve as a bridge between established professionals and newcomers. S*P*A*M also handed out its first grants this year, to Jeffery Bazemore and Lucy Briggs.

The Broadway Bullet Podcast returned this year, thanks to props master Jay Duckworth, who is also the first interview. He props Shakespeare in the Park, and was the prop master on the Off-Broadway incarnation of a little show called Hamilton.

20th Century Props reopened this year after closing down in 2009. It was one of LA’s largest prop rental houses, and its return shows how Hollywood is coming back after so many productions fled town for greener pastures elsewhere.

Wild West reenactors were in the news when one of their actors accidentally used real bullets during a show at Tombstone’s Helldorado Days. That’s gonna leave a mark.

Mythbusters filmed their last episode this year after 14 years on the air. Adam Savage shared images from the final day. The episodes air in the coming months, but production is now wrapped on this groundbreaking show.

After dropping them earlier in the year, the New York Times has restored designer credits to its reviews after overwhelming outcry from our industry.

USITT has begun a monthly spotlight of its members, and the December Member Spotlight was a props master named me.

See you next year! The End.

Friday Link Notes

It was a fairly big week here at the Hart household. I finally returned to North Carolina from Santa Fe, and I began my brand-new job as the Properties Master at Triad Stage. It’s a great theatre to be working at, and the first time for me to run a department full-time. But enough about me, let’s see what everyone else on the Internet is doing:

Hey, who wants to be Adam Savage’s intern? Right now there’s a contest where you can win just that. Actually, you get to hang out with Adam for a week in his studio, so it’s not that in-depth of an internship, and the process to get there sounds a bit like a reality show in-the-making, but it still seems like a fun idea.

The Closet Geek Podcast has an interview with Bill Doran of Punished Props. Doran builds replica props from video games, comic books and films, and works largely out of his own home, building items for people and companies around the world. The interview delves into how he got started, some of his current projects, and his views on cosplay and fan conventions.

As a gentle reminder to theatre people everywhere: don’t throw away your fake bomb props in a garbage can in a major city. When I was in NYC, I was paranoid just to carry “weapon-like” props around, especially on the subway, where my backpack was routinely searched. I would usually keep stuff like this in a disassembled state, or packaged up so it just looked like I was shopping.

The team behind the film Pacific Rim has a lot of behind-the-scenes videos showing their work. They are all pretty cool, but the one I’m showing below of the cockpit for the giant robots is particularly interesting for props people. The film actually used a lot of practical effects in addition to CGI. It’s really cool to see how they first built a mock-up of the whole thing from foam core, than went through with more sophisticated techniques to build the real thing from the patterns.